Efforts underway to release Ohio man sentenced to hard labor in North Korea

NEW YORK (WCMH) – Efforts are underway to help get an Ohio native out of a North Korean prison.

Otto Warmbier, 21, from Wyoming, Ohio, is the second American that political activist and NBA agent David Sugarman is now trying to help free from North Korea. Sugarman is also credited with helping free Kenneth Bae from North Korean imprisonment back in 2014.

North Korea’s highest court sentenced Warmbier to 15 years hard labor after he confessed to trying to steal a propaganda banner.

Sugarman says he does not represent Warmbier’s family, but friends of Otto’s have been supporting him.

He says when he was working to #BringBaeBack, he repeatedly made cold calls to the North Korean ambassador. He says those calls eventually developed into a relationship that aided in Bae’s release and return to the U.S.

Sugarman says he’s already had two meetings with the North Korean ambassador about freeing Warmbier.

“Maybe because of who I am and my profession, I have contacts that may be what they’re looking for,” Sugarman said. “We spoke about Otto. They had mentioned to me that they would like me to get basketballs and sneakers and basketball stuff to the children and to the teams of the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea).”

He says he’s not sure if he’ll be able to send those items to North Korea because of U.S. sanctions, but he plans on asking the State Department if it can be allowed.

“I believe that God’s given me the ability, the relationships to help for whatever reason. Now, it’s Otto in the DPRK and it’s important to help an American,” Sugarman said. “I can’t determine what the North Koreans are going to do… I have no idea. All I know is I will fight and I will fight until Otto Warmbier is home.”

He said the conversation on bringing Warmbier back has to continue. He’s started a hashtag campaign on Twitter called #WeWantWarmbier.

Besides Warmbier, Kim Dong Chul is also being imprisoned in North Korea. The U.S. citizen of Korean heritage was sentenced to 10 years hard labor after he was convicted by North Korea’s Supreme Court for espionage and subversion on Friday. He’s the second American the court has put behind bars this year.

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